Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Juggling act

Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog (which I will, from here on out, call a "flog," overriding the definition of "fake blog"). So, when the manfriend suggested I begin his cooking lessons, sk's recent post of Roast Chicken with Dijon Sauce was the irresistible answer to the question of, "OK, so what should we make?"

Since cooking during the work week is a rarity due to my free-time-eating commute, I decided to optimize my energy and that of my sous chef and make turkey soup too (to freeze for later). Rounding out that night's meal was a spinach salad and roasted asparagus.

The extra benefit of having my friends around to help cook, in general, is that many of them have corrected vision in the form of contacts. I don't know why they help so much, but contacts seem to be the impermeable shield against being blinded by tears when chopping onions. Coupled with the fact that a slippery onion nearly caused me to remove my left middle finger the other week, I gladly handed off this task to the contact-wearing Man. He also went to town on the ginormous carrots I grabbed from the loose veggie bin (seriuosly: much bigger than those in the 1-lb bag) and chives.

The recipes:
"Roasted Chicken with Dijon Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, 2011

The sauce is on the thin side but can be thickened up by reducing the sauce over high heat for several minutes. This concentrates the flavors as well, and if you haven’t used a low-sodium broth, you might find the results a little salty. Just a word of warning.

3 pounds chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, and/or breasts), with skin and bones
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup reduced-sodium or sodium-free chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives or the green parts of scallions

Preheat oven to 450°F with a rack in middle. Pat chicken dry and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet (if you’ve got a cast iron skillet, it is great here) over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Working in 2 batches, brown chicken, skin side down first and turning once, about 5 minutes per batch. I like to take a lot of care in this step, not moving the chicken until the skin releases itself and has a nice bronze on it, which will provide the best flavor and seal in the most juices.

Return all chicken, skin side up, to skillet and roast in oven until just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter, then add shallots, wine, and broth to pan juices in skillet and boil, scraping up any brown bits, until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream and boil until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. To thicken the sauce further, turn the heat to high and boil it until it reduces to a consistency you prefer.

Strain sauce through a sieve into a bowl, if you’re feeling fancy. Whisk in mustard, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve chicken with sauce."

Impromptu Chicken-esque Turkey Soup

2 yellow onions, chopped
3-4 carrots (depending on size), chopped 0.5" thick
2 stalks of celery, chopped 0.25-0.5" thick
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T canola, olive or vegetable oil
3-5 lbs of turkey parts (I used thighs and drumsticks; my packages came with two of the former and three of the latter), trimmed of fat and rinsed
1 32-oz carton of chicken (or turkey) broth, low or no sodium
1 C dry white wine (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, etc.)
1-2 cups of water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a stock pot and add the oil. Add onions and saute for a few minutes to soften. Add garlic and saute for a minute more as the aroma releases. Add chopped veggies and turkey then pour in the chicken broth and wine. Pour in water to add volume to the liquid until the turkey pieces are submerged. Cover, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for an hour on low-to-medium heat.

At this point, the meat should be loosening from the bone. Turn off the heat on the soup and pull out the turkey parts to debone. Remove the skin, bone, tendon, and gristle, then return the turkey meat to the pot. Season with salt and pepper, and serve. This kind of soup saves really well too; I suggest putting a serving each into various pint-sized plasticware containers and freezing for up to 2 months.

Spinach Salad with Marmalade Dressing
2 handfuls of pre-washed baby spinach leaves
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3" of a cucumber, sliced to roughly 0.25"
A handful of sugar snap peas in pods (Trader Joe's sells these)

Layer the salad in the order the ingredients appear above. I meant to add kalamata olives and artichoke hearts, but forgot in the hubub of cooking 438 things at once while hungry.

Dressing: a tablespoon of orange marmalade mixed with 2-3 tablespoons of white wine, seasoned with salt, a teaspoon of dried basil, and peppercorn-and-orange-peel infused olive oil.

Roasted Asparagus
from Alice Waters' The Art Of Simple Food

1 bunch of fresh asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Pour some olive oil on a plate and roll the asparagus in the oil to coat it lightly. Season with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Arrange into one layer in a baking dish, and roast for about 10 minutes, turning at the halfway point. Serve hot.

Editorializing and a photo to come shortly.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


It is easy to eat richer food in winter; the warmth and weight are comforting in trying to combat the permeating cold. It has been an intense few weeks in D.C., weather-wise, and I've just about had it. The excess of December celebrations still hasn't worn off, though, so warm, cleansing foods are now what appeal. This is where veggie-comprised ratatouille comes in.

As with 90% of my comfort foods, this recipe comes from my mom. Growing up, my dad affectionately referred to it as "rat stew," more as a testament to the oddity of languages rather than a snub of the meatless entree. Having never made it before, I am now thumping myself on the forehead for avoiding making it till now. It is essentially my beloved vegetable soup, but with different veggies and a few extra spices - no tricks despite the exotic-sounding name.

I made it for Roomie #1 and the manfriend prior to heading out for an acquaintance's birthday on Saturday. It was an especially timely debut for this dish, as its origins trace back to Nice, from whence R#1 just returned after a 3-week long French immersion program. The dish didn't strike me as tasting particularly French, but it is like other Mediterranean cuisine. The recipe is as follows, from Mom:

"I think my ratatouille recipe is one I got from a Betty Crocker cookbook decades ago!

It is a small eggplant (not small the Japanese ones, just not a huge normal eggplant) cut into slabs, then salted and allowed to drain for 15-20 minutes. Then rinse it, pat it dry, and cut it into bite-size pieces and saute. My recipe says use 1/4 C. olive oil---I'd start with 2 T for the eggplant, but it absorbs oil, so if you have to add more to keep it from sticking, so be it. Then add more when the other vegetables are added.

While the eggplant is draining, cut other ingredients:
1 bell pepper (any color, I like red but, it's sweeter than green)
1 onion
1-2 cloves garlic
1 ~10" zucchini or 2 smallish ones
1 lb. mushrooms, quartered

By the time you cut those, it will be time to saute the eggplant. Add the garlic with eggplant, then add other vegetables and saute lightly.

Add a 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes, 1 T. of oregano, and simmer for 1/2 hour.

You can eat this by itself, or on pasta or as a crepe filling or whatever other way you think of."

Tweaks: I added 1 T of dried basil, a dash of thyme, 4 small cloves of garlic (instead of 1 to 2), and 1/4 C white wine.

Explanation: Eggplant is a vegetable that I've avoided cooking for the most part. The one time I tried to make eggplant parmesan, the frying of the aubergine took up half of a bottle of olive oil, which seemed to make it significantly less healthy than a regular veggie dish. For that exact reason is why the eggplant is salted prior to sauteing it, as noted above. The salt breaks down the flesh of the eggplant, which allows the air pockets in its spongey flesh to deflate. The denser product is then easier to fry and doesn't soak up all of your cooking oil like a bottomless-pit of a sponge.

The idea of using it as a crepe filling is enticing, so that will be one of its many iterations for meal appearances this week. I served it with artichoke-and-olive chicken sausage (which I won't buy again; the flavors were muted and boring), grated romano, and flat bread to soak up the juices.

This recipe makes more than I thought it would, but that just means it can be frozen for later. It would be a great topping / mix-in with scrambled eggs for breakfast, along with some shredded parmesan.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Inspiration - Part II

La Eganita started a cooking blog, reminding me that I'd once desired to do the same. If I ever remember to, this is where it will be posted.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I attended a cooking class at Hill's Kitchen in SE DC that focused on North Indian Cooking. Brock, the chef, introduced us to the idea of the "dawn of flavor," when you fry the spices to release the aromas and flavors. I was familiar with the technique and liked the imagery - that there's an almost-magical process and timing that will awaken something.

I'm looking for my own dawn of flavor.